Q&A With Alan Hamm, Pro-Choice Chaplain and Crisis Counselor

Alan Hamm, M. Div., has spent the past decade or so as a chaplain and crisis counselor.  He has worked as a counselor at a hospital trauma center and a rape crisis center.  He can be reached at alanthechaplain@gmail.com.
Q: So, Alan, you are a chaplain/crisis counselor and pro-choice.  How did you come to that stance?
A:  Frankly, my experiences as a counselor with women in the settings of the hospital and the rape crisis center were what helped me to understand that abortion is a necessity in many cases and that abortion rights should be protected in the U.S.  When you hear the stories of women who do not want to bear their rapists’ children or young girls (as young as 10!) who were molested by their father, grandfather or uncle and impregnated by them, you understand that these women need to have the choice to do what is necessary to live their lives as trauma-free as possible.
Q:  Have you ever met with someone who regretted an abortion?
A:  Oh, sure, but I have also met with women who regretted not having an abortion.  I can’t get into specifics due to confidentiality but I remember meeting with a woman who could not bear to look at her growing son because every day he looked more and more like her rapist.  She was disgusted by him but felt guilty for being so disgusted.  It is a choice not to be taken lightly but I think that there should be a choice so that women do not have to face these impossible situations and feel like they are being forced into a particular decision by society.
Q: How does your faith inform your belief in the right to have an abortion?

A:  Abortion is a complex issue and should be treated as such.  I have grappled with this issue theologically and philosophically as have so many others.  Ultimately, it is compassion that informs my belief in the right to choose because abortion is often a necessity.  None of the doctors, nurses or patients I met who were involved in these procedures made their decisions lightly and all were up front about the risks and benefits of abortion and supported their patients no matter what choice was made.  I think as a society we wish that we could live in a world where everything has an easy answer and you just have to be on the “good” side to live a godly life.  The reality, however, is that life is full of difficult choices and a lot of gray zones where we use our minds and hearts to navigate through these troublesome issues.  I’m certain that the Supreme Court justices involved in Roe V. Wade gave the matter careful consideration and, informed by their ethics and their faiths, made the decision to legalize abortion

Q:  Many anti-choice people cite religion as a reason to restrict abortion access or make it illegal; how would you respond to that?

I respond the same way that I respond when people try to curtail the rights of anyone because of their belief system which is that I encourage them to look at the issue through a different lens.  It is easy to condemn someone when we don’t know their struggles and the difficulties they have had to endure.  It is easy for those not faced with these tough decisions to simplify matters to “black or white” theology.  Even the staunchest anti-choice people I have met would agree to an abortion if a pregnant woman’s life is endangered.  It is a difficult choice but a necessary choice, just as any of the choices regarding having an abortion.

Q: How do you think your counseling has impacted or helped women who are considering or have had an abortion?

I hope it has helped.  My goal is to let people know that God (in whatever way they relate to God) loves them and that they are not alone in this.  I do this because I know there are going to be those that judge them for the choice they made or will tell them they are going to hell or that this was all their fault.  This is not how I chose to counsel, because one of the main tenets of Christianity is to be non-judgmental and Jesus, according to the Gospels, got in trouble specifically because he fraternized with people who others were judging as “less-than”.

HB2 update: If we’re going to talk about sexual violence, let’s really talk about it

By Tara Romano, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina and President of North Carolina Women United

This article was originally published at NC Policy Watch, and is a companion piece to anearlier article on the original Charlotte anti-discrimination policy that launched HB2, the anti-LGBTQ bill heard round the country.  I felt compelled to write about this again because I still heard and saw sexual violence myths being used to justify this bill. Perpetuating myths about the who, what, where and how of the sexual violence epidemic in our country typically demonizes marginalized people – the LGBTQ community; immigrants; people of color; the poor – in an effort to scapegoat the “other” because we don’t want to face the realities of who is actually perpetuating this violence (lost in the heated rhetoric about immigrants being classified on the whole as rapists, for example, are stories like the founder of the anti-immigrant group the Minutemen recently being convicted of child sexual assault).  Demonizing marginalized groups for sexual violence often times leaves people with little political and social power at risk of danger themselves, while ignoring – and often, enabling – those who are actually perpetuating assault (would the Stanford swimmer be out of jail so soon if he were not a straight, white male athlete?).

 And when we ignore the “why” of sexual assault, we’ll never be able to stop it. Sexual violence has everything to do with power and control, and little to do with sexual attraction (any sexual gratification comes from the power exerted, not the attraction). Those with more power in our society are not certainly the only ones who will commit sexual violence, but when they do, they are much more likely to get away with it. Repeatedly. Our silence around sexual assault is a result of our discomfort about the topic, and about sex itself. Our silence is what allows this violence to flourish. Myths will not make us safer, even if they temporarily make us more comfortable. It’s not easy to face these realities, but it’s the only way we will eliminate this violence.

A high school football team’s locker room is host to the sexual harassment and assault of its freshmen members every week. Sexual violence survivors increasingly come forward to share their stories of abuse at the hands of their clergy. A coach on a Big Ten sports team is found guilty of molesting numerous children over a period of decades. A 13-year old girl is raped by her older brother’s classmates and left unconscious in the snow on her front lawn.

These are just a few examples of the sexual violence that makes the news, and the reality of what children in our society experience. It is estimated that one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys in this country experience some type of sexual violence by the time they turn 18. Approximately 69% of teen sexual assaults occur in a private residence. Only about 10% of perpetrators of child sexual assault are strangers to the children they victimize, while 30% of the perpetrators are family members of the child (the other 60% are family friends, neighbors, coaches, clergy, babysitters, etc.).

As I’ve written before, the heated rhetoric created by HB2 has us looking for predators in all the wrong places. Transgender people are much more likely to be victims of abuse and violence than the perpetrators of it. Indeed, there is no evidence of transgender people committing assault in public bathrooms in the states and cities that have passed the ordinances that our state government now forbids its cities to pass. HB2 also asks us to accept the notion that a sexual predator is simultaneously willing to commit a felony rape but completely unwilling to disobey a municipal ordinance about which bathroom to enter.

This notion has become something of a punchline for those pointing out the fallacy that HB2 is about preventing sexual assault. But there is nothing funny about the reality of sexual violence. As someone who has spent many years as an advocate for victims of domestic and sexual violence, and who continues to be frustrated by the unwillingness of our society to face up to and discuss the reality of sexual violence, I see the justification for HB2 as yet another abdication of our responsibility to protect our kids from predators. This sexual violence epidemic plaguing our nation is not the result of us ignoring the possibility of “stranger danger”; it is the byproduct of our unwillingness to confront the perpetrators we know are responsible and to hold them accountable for their actions.

I am not suggesting this is happening because we don’t care; I am suggesting that so many of us feel so uncomfortable with this problem – and sometimes so overwhelmed by it – that we prefer to ignore it, hoping we never have to actually face it personally. That as scary as these stories of bathroom predators may be, they are still less frightening than realizing our friend; our relative; our neighbor; our kids’ babysitter, community mentor or coach; and our church leader are all using their relationships and their good standing within society to abuse and victimize children in our community.

And while there are many types of sexual violence, some of the stories that take hold in the public imagination are the ones that take on mythic proportions, and may not be as true as we have been led to believe. Some believe that societal myths and urban legends exist to allow us to create order where we feel there is none, and bring a measure of logic to something we can’t understand. Unfairly demonizing whole groups of people that are in the minority as being responsible for all social ills, including sexual violence (a still-used practice that has a long history in this country), gives some of us a feeling of control. “If we can just keep those peopleaway, we’ll be fine,” goes the thinking.

But we aren’t fine. Not only does holding on to these myths encourage discrimination and possibly violence against marginalized populations, it allows us to ignore the sexual violence happening right in front of us because those perpetrators don’t fit this narrative (how many initial concerns about Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky were written off as “horsing around”?).

And lost in the narrative around HB2 is the sexual violence – from harassment to rape – that children and young people face from their peers. Nearly half of U.S. students (7th-12th grade) say they’ve experienced some form of sexual harassment at school, and 33% of girls and 25% of boys say they’ve witnessed this harassment. In a 2013 study, one-in-ten teen respondents admitted to committing an act of sexual violence against a peer, and 21% of high school girls and 10% of high school boys have said they’ve experienced dating violence. And many of us have heard aboutSteubenville and other high profile high school rape cases.

I’ve had a few conversations with concerned parents around the privacy and safety of locker rooms without the bans proposed in HB2, but I am not sure locker rooms are particularly safe places now, and that has nothing to do with someone from another gender being in there. As referenced in the beginning of this article, there have been numerous stories about high school boys sexually assaultingother boys in same-sex locker rooms (warning: those links all contain graphic descriptions of violence). And while this type of extreme violence is not as common among girls, harassment and body shaming frequently do happen in girls’ locker rooms. Better education in schools about consent and sexual violence, and improved supervision and accountability for the perpetrators of this violence is what will make our schools safer for our children. Scapegoating an already misunderstood and maligned group of children makes no one safer.

As I have written before, sexual violence is not driven by gender differences but by power imbalances. Sexual violence is about power and control, not about sexual attraction. It’s about asserting dominance over someone else, and it impacts children and young people so much because they have less power and few individual rights in our society, and are therefore much more vulnerable. And when young people and children commit this type of violence, it’s because our society has taught them that this is a way to obtain power. Legalizing discrimination and encouraging the policing of a group of people solely because of their expression of sexuality and gender identity is feeding the narrative that creates this mindset, both in young people and in adults.

Fortunately, there are many positive things we can do to stop this epidemic of sexual violence our children are facing – from expanding comprehensive sex education to providing adequate funding of prevention and service programs to promoting real discussions about the harm of rigid gender roles and toxic masculinity models.

But we have to start with a willingness to face the reality of the problem. We have to put aside our shame and discomfort in talking about sex and sexuality, and move forward from the myths. As an advocate, I hear a lot of these stories of violence, and I know it’s not easy to face these stories. But I won’t turn away, and I ask that you not turn away either.

Transgender Day of Advocacy at the North Carolina General Assembly

Sarah Hogg, Advocacy & Organizing Manager at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina

On Wednesday, May 25, I was pleased to represent NARAL Pro-Choice NC as a participant in Transgender Day of Advocacy, a lobbying event hosted by TurnOUT! NC, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Equality North Carolina, the Human Rights Campaign, and PFLAG. While previous advocacy days addressed how HB2 effects everyone in the LGBTQ+ community, Wednesday’s activities specifically focused on how HB2 impacts transgender North Carolinians.

Transgender Day of Advocacy began at the North Carolina Museum of History with a warm welcome by Chris Sgro, Executive Director of Equality North Carolina and a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, followed by lobbying and social media trainings. At 10 a.m., we all gathered in the lobby of the Museum for a “Transgender North Carolinians, Families, and Friends For Repeal of HB2” press conference, where trans North Carolinians shared their personal stories, reactions to HB2, and the need for a full repeal of the law. Finally, before we headed to our lobbying appointments, we heard from Representative Duane Hall about lobbying tips, the detrimental statewide effects of HB2, and the importance of pushing bills that would repeal HB2, two of which he has cosponsored.

At 11:30 it was time to get into groups and head to our first lobbying appointment. My group, made up of myself, Georgia (a member of Triangle PFLAG), Ben (an Equality NC staffer), and Cole, Maddy, Parker, and Tony (researchers, students, and interns at Duke University working on a data project on the National Transgender Discrimination Survey), was wonderful. When we weren’t meeting with legislators, we were sharing our own stories with each other on everything from organizing in a red state to queer feminist activism to being the parent of a transgender child.

Throughout the day, our group met with Representative Nelson Dollar, Senator Tamara Barringer, and Beverlee Baker, Representative George Graham’s legislative aide. We also dropped off a number of letters urging a full repeal of HB2 to legislators who were out of their offices or in session. In a couple of our meetings, it was clear that a number of misconceptions about trans people and what they are doing in bathrooms are still prevalent among our state legislators. While these conversations were difficult to have, our two group storytellers did a fantastic job of debunking these myths by sharing their stories of being a trans North Carolinian and the parent of a trans child.

To wrap up the day, we made our way back to the Museum of History for a debrief with the other lobby groups and Equality North Carolina staff. Everyone agreed that they had deeply challenging, but also deeply rewarding conversations with legislators who initially voted in favor of HB2 (and who we were now lobbying to vote for a repeal). Participants emphasized that sharing their own stories of being a trans North Carolinian or having a trans spouse or child obviously put some food for thought in legislators’ minds, and that these Senators and Representatives often asked storytellers for more information or to stay behind to chat a bit more while the rest of their lobby group moved on. Over and over again, attendees compared their experience talking to legislators as being the water that wears down a rock: the process may be slow, but change will happen. While HB2 may not be repealed tomorrow, our presence at the legislature did make a difference.

Thanks to my lobbying group and the stories shared by other participants during the debrief, I left Transgender Day of Advocacy feeling inspired and hopeful – but there is still much work to be done. As a queer woman and reproductive rights advocate, I know how damaging and dangerous HB2 is to my community, as well as how absolutely necessary it is that reproductive rights organizations fight back against this discriminatory legislation. HB2, which seeks to legislate the way certain bodies exist, move through, and experience the world, particularly where those bodies are allowed to go or not go, is a reproductive rights and justice issue. We must continue to highlight that this bill is anti-trans, anti-worker, and anti-queer and turn up the pressure on the North Carolina General Assembly to repeal HB2.

Check out photos from Transgender Day of Advocacy below! Feeling fired up and ready to take action on HB2? Join NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina and TurnOUT! NC for a Repeal HB2 canvass in Wake County on June 11.

Wrapping Up the Semester at Duke University

By Taylor Johnson, Spring 2016 Campus Leader at Duke University

This semester was my first experience as a NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Campus Leader for Duke University, and I have already learned so much. Out of the gate I had a lot of plans, some of which, like weekly discussions about women’s rights, reproductive rights, and the rights of female students on campus, came to fruition. However, in light of the tumultuous situations occurring on my campus this semester, some of my plans had to fall to the wayside in order to capitalize on the activist momentum around the 7-day occupation of the Allen building in order to secure rights for Duke workers, a great many of whom are long-time employees, women, and people of color.

Though the activism originally began in response to a Chronicle article about Duke’s Executive Vice President Tallman Trask hitting a female parking attendant, Shelvia Underwood, with his car and allegedly calling her a racial slur, it evolved to include a great many other things. We had visits from local activists from campaigns like Raise Up: the fight for $15/hour as well as informal class sessions by local faculty on relevant issues such as student activism in India and the political history of youth activism.

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I can say with absolute honesty that the few weeks I spent in a tent out on the Abele quad in front of the Allen building showed me more about activism and community on college campuses than any of my other college experiences. It helped to establish connections between like-minded people separated by circumstance, previously divided into their own individual campaigns for justice and uninformed about the other activities going on around them.

As a clear example of this, following the dismantling of the tents for the summer, students got wind of an administrative decision to move the Women’s Center from its prominent position on the west campus bus loop to an unknown corner of east campus, tucked away behind student dorms, underneath the Duke Coffeehouse. Immediately, a huge wave of protest appeared, spear-headed in large part by the veterans of Abele quad, many of whom worked in some capacity with the Women’s Center and who I’d been in discussions with every day for the past few weeks.

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Complaints and concerns about the move included: the invisibility of the center in an untraversed and relatively unknown part of campus, where only first years live and where students from all other campuses will have to travel a great deal further to get to; the fact that sexual misconduct hearings, where those accused of rape or assault sit in front of a committee, would occur in the exact same building as the Women’s Center, where many survivors of assault go to seek counseling and could therefore run into their assailants;  the fact that the Women’s Center, in its original space on West Campus, had become a familiar safe haven to many students seeking therapy on issues such as gender or relationship violence as well as eating or body dysmorphic disorders, that they would now lose.

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Addressing these concerns to the administration, we wrote letters, signed petitions, and created collective art demonstrating the mass protest against the move. For more information, check out this guest column in the Chronicle to stop the move, as well as a personal blog by a friend of mine and former Women’s Center intern McCall Hollie in regards to the decision. In spite of this, the administration moved along with their decision, and the Women’s Center was relocated. Over the summer and the next semester, I envision that a great deal of my position as Campus Leader will be focused on addressing the issues brought up by this move and rectifying the lack of space for discussion of women’s and reproductive rights issues on this campus.

Until next semester,

Taylor

To apply to be a Campus Leader at your college or university, e-mail our Advocacy & Organizing Manager at Sarah@ProChoiceNC.org.

Wrapping Up the Semester at North Carolina State University

By Leah Block, Spring 2016 Campus Leader at North Carolina State University

While April marks the end of the semester and the beginning of final exams for most students, there was no shortage of activism at NC State. We saw continued efforts to repeal House Bill 2 through mass sit-ins and marches at the State Capitol, as well as efforts to protect and expand reproductive rights in North Carolina. I made it my goal this semester to extend as many activism-related opportunities to students as possible. Some events of note included the Trapped film screening, Take Back The Night, Bowl-A-Thon, and the Susan Hill Event.

Not even technical difficulties could keep the NC State Trapped film screening from being a huge success. Students, professors, citizens of Raleigh, and even clinic escorts attended the screening of this 2016 documentary. The film follows the struggles of clinic workers and lawyers who are on the front lines of a battle to keep abortion safe and legal for millions of American women. In particular, the film follows the fight against Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (TRAP). TRAP restrictions can increase mandatory waiting periods for abortion care and put unnecessary regulations on clinics. In some states, women must drive hundreds of miles to reach the nearest abortion clinic, sometimes even flying out and taking days off from work. By making students aware of such laws, we can be prepared to take on the policies which are hurting women across the country. I had great, thought-provoking conversations with students of all ages after the film screening, many of whom asked me how they can help. Some even expressed an eager interest in becoming a clinic escort. To me, this is what the Campus Leader program is all about.

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Every seat was filled at the Trapped film screening!

April is the official month for the National Abortion Access Bowl-A-Thon. Bowl-A-Thon provides abortion funds for women in need across the country, whether it be travel or reproductive health care costs. The goal of the funds are to make abortion accessible to women of low socioeconomic incomes.  This month, bowling teams across North Carolina took on the challenge of raising $50,000 in the name of the pro-choice movement. We raised 84% of our goal in total, despite having been attacked by radical anti-abortion extremists, who carried out an extensive and time-consuming cyber attack on the Bowl-A-Thon’s network. Despite the challenges, the Carolina Abortion Fund came out on top thanks to all the brave pro-choice individuals fighting to protect reproductive rights.

This month, I attended Take Back the Night, which occurs yearly at NC State. Take Back the Night aims to create a space in which survivors of rape and sexual assault can be heard and feel safe to express their stories and concerns with the current system. During the rally, which drew hundreds, student volunteers from Students Advocating Gender Equality (SAGE) handed out reproductive health resources such as pamphlets, condoms, and buttons to attendees. After the rally, there was a march and a Speak Out. During the Speak Out, many survivors of rape and sexual assault chose to share their experiences in a safe and supportive setting. This was a very powerful event to attend, to say the least. Though discussing rape and sexual assault can be very painful, I am hoping those who chose to share feel validated, empowered, and supported by the Wolfpack community.

To wrap up the month and academic year, I attended the 2016 Susan Hill Event. I had the pleasure of volunteering alongside other Campus Leaders, who shared with me their experiences as an intern so far. I also had the pleasure of listening to keynote speaker Amy Hagstrom Miller, Founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which has been the face of the battle against TRAP regulations this year. Her speech struck inspiration into the hearts of everyone in the room. To see and hear the optimism of everyone was very encouraging to me as an activist and as a person. I had the opportunity to mingle with various leaders in the pro-choice movement including NARAL Pro-Choice NC’s new Executive Director, Tara Romano. I am excited to see what next semester holds for me and NARAL Pro-Choice NC!

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Leah Block and Ian Grice at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina’s 2016 Susan Hill Event

To apply to be a Campus Leader at your college or university, e-mail our Advocacy & Organizing Manager at Sarah@ProChoiceNC.org.